Tags: ceres | dawn | probe | shiny | spots

Ceres' Dawn Probe Descends Into Mystery of 2 Shiny Spots

By    |   Thursday, 26 Feb 2015 07:04 AM

Dwarf planet Ceres has two shiny spots on its surface, the Dawn space probe discovered late last week.

"This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us," Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany said in a NASA blog post.

NASA provided stunning pictures of the bright spots via its Twitter account this week. They were taken from 29,000 miles away.

The Dawn probe was launched in 2007, and entered the orbit of the dwarf planet Vesta in 2011. It captured more than 30,000 images of Vesta before leaving orbit in 2012, and beginning its journey toward dwarf planet Ceres. Both dwarf planets are the most massive bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The latest photos come from Dawn's approaching of Ceres, and the refrigerator-sized probe is expected to enter its orbit on March 6.

"Right now, all we can say is that the material reflects 40 percent or more of the light falling on it," UCLA astronomer Chris Russell, the principal investigator for the Dawn mission, told NBC News of the bright surface spots. "If the final answer ... is that it reflects all the light that falls on it, then the most probable reflector would be ice."

Scientists have previously seen what appeared to be water vapor rising from Ceres, which increases further the possibility the reflective spots are indeed ice.

On the other hand, however, "There could be salt on the surface, which would be more reflective than the general claylike material we think covers much of the surface," Russell said. "So there is a range of possibilities."

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Dwarf planet Ceres has two shiny spots on its surface, the Dawn space probe discovered late last week.
ceres, dawn, probe, shiny, spots
Thursday, 26 Feb 2015 07:04 AM
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